Ministry at the thin places

I’m called to the thin places, the holes, the edges.  I’m called to those moments where people are at the edges of life and don’t even know it.  They are at risk of death, due to overdose, or suicide, or both.  They’ve wandered too close to the limit.  One more step and they are gone. 

It took me a while to see this pattern.  I kept meeting people at these edges. 

I went walking in downtown Chattanooga with friends many years back at night, and saw a young man, thin, dark hair, alone at a water fountain that had been turned off for the winter.  I left my friends and walked up to this stranger and began to talk with him.  It was a month later that he admitted to me that he was going to kill himself that night.  It was the fact that I started talking to him that distracted him, that turned him away from the edge. 

I’ve had several boyfriends who drank too much, not trying to kill themselves but trying to enjoy life more, in their opinion.  I was there to keep them alive in those moments when the body starts to react badly to that abuse. 

I’ve dated two people who had attempted suicide before I met them.

My father tried to commit suicide when I was two.  My great-grandfather, his grandfather, did commit suicide.  They say that someone was “successful” at suicide, but is it really a success? 

I feel suicide and addiction and overdosing are all related.  We walk too far into territory that we don’t know, and it pulls us in with its own gravity, its own magnetism.  Before we know it, we are sucked in much further than we meant.  We didn’t know where that dark alley led to.  We didn’t know – or we thought we were strong enough to walk away.  These forces are older than us, and hungrier.  They will have what they will have and there is no arguing with them.  The only real way to survive is to never get too close. 

And that is where I come in.  I show up.  I happen to be there.  I’m called to it.  This isn’t something you can schedule.  There isn’t an app for this. 

I stand in the way, with death behind me, so they can’t see that doorway. 

This isn’t something you train for, not really. This isn’t something that people even talk about.  We don’t talk about death.  We certainly don’t talk about suicide. 

(Written 11/8/2015, updated 5/14/20)

Papa and the gun

Papa brought his gun everywhere he went. It wasn’t a small gun, either, no sir. It was a shotgun, meant for bears and the like. Gardening or the grocery store made no difference. He toted it all over Grandville, in the elbow-carry position most of the time. Sure, he got some strange looks when he was off his property, but everybody knew he was a retired Colonel (full bird, not Lieutenant) and cut him some slack. He’d never shot anything or anyone his whole service career, but that didn’t matter now. He’d been an electrical engineer before the World War started and he signed up as soon as he could. He wanted to do his part to help out his country. Maybe deep down he also wanted to make right the shame his father had brought to the family all those years ago when he left his family the permanent way.

But now he was at his new home, his two children (the requisite boy and girl) waving at the edge of the forest. They had just moved there, the 3 bedroom, 2-and-a-half bath, 2288 square-foot house they came from just wasn’t enough for him anymore. Maybe he was like a hermit crab and had outgrown his shell. He’d had to find a new one and fast or he’d die. That unsettledness was his inheritance from his Pa.

Papa was a tender soul in a hard world. Deep down he would have preferred to walk in the woods, without a care or obligation. He married out of social expectation, but had requested they have no children, but his wife had snuck two in on him before he’d insisted on separate rooms. He didn’t want children because he couldn’t bear to think of a child having to undergo what he and his sister had – the hardship, the skimping, the growing up fast after their dad died at his own hand. The family story was that it was during the Depression.  It was a depression alright, but not the capital-D kind. More of a personal kind than a public one.

Yes, that was why he carried a rifle. His father had used a revolver. And while you could kill yourself with a rifle, it was a lot harder.

You’d think he wouldn’t carry a gun at all, but he needed a reminder of the weakness that might affect him. He wanted to never succumb to weakness – whether inside or out. He needed a reminder to never forget how easy it was to go astray. Some former cigarette smokers kept their favorite ashtray, while some ex-drinkers kept empty bottles on display. It was all for the same reason. They kept their old sin before them so it wouldn’t become their new sin all over again. He never knew if suicide would sneak up on him like it had his father, but he was determined to not let it get a chance.

Judas hangs himself

Judas was filled with remorse at what he had done when he learned that Jesus had been sentenced to death. He returned the 30 silver pieces to the chief priests and elders.

“I have sinned by betraying an innocent man,” he said.

“So? How does that concern us? That is your problem!” they retorted.

He threw the silver into the Temple sanctuary and left. He hung himself that very hour.

The chief priests gathered up the coins and said “It is against the Law to put this money with the Temple offerings because it is blood money.” After some discussion, they decided to buy a potter’s field to turn it into a burial place for foreigners who died in the city. It is because of this that this cemetery is called “The Field of Blood” to this day.

This fulfilled the words of the prophet Jeremiah when he said -“They took the thirty silver pieces, the price the sons of Israel set for Him, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord ordered me.”

MT 27:3-10